Skip to Main Content Skip to Site Map Skip to Accessibility Statement

Glossary of terms

Acute Description of a disease with rapid onset, severe symptoms and short duration.

Adenocarcinoma A malignant tumour of glandular tissue.

Adjuvant therapy A treatment given in addition to the main treatment, for example chemotherapy or radiotherapy after surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back and to improve cure rates.  Adjuvant treatment aims to augment the effectiveness of the primary treatment.

AFP Alpha-fetoprotein, a substance found in the bloodstream of some men with testicular cancer.  A blood test is used to measure the progress of the disease.

Age standardised mortality Age-standardised rates cover all ages and are standardised to the European Standard Population, expressed per million population.  This allows comparisons between populations with different age structures, including between males and females and over time.

Apoptosis Death of a cell.

Ascites Excess fluid in the abdomen.

Benign Tumour that is not malignant or condition that does not produce harmful effects.

Biomarkers A cellular or molecular indicator of exposure, disease or susceptibility to disease.

Biopsy A piece of body tissue taken so that cells can be looked at under a microscope.

Blastoma An aggressive tumour arising from embryonic tissue.

Bone marrow transplant Technique of using normal bone marrow cells to replace malignant or defective bone marrow in a patient.

Brachytherapy The placement of a radioactive source on or inside a tumour.

Breast cancer Tumours arising in breast tissue, most common malignancy in women but can also affect men.

Cancer  Cancer is present when the normal division of cells gets out of control and invades healthy tissue.  It is also a general term used to describe a collection of diseases.

Cancer Network Organisational model drawing together multiple institutions and agencies to collaboratively deliver cancer care.

Cancer Registries Collections of cancer data, e.g. types of cancer, where they occur, how advanced they are.  The availability of information varies as it relies on reporting of staging information by practices and clinicians.

Carcinoma A cancer of the epithelial or skin tissue that covers all the organs and lines the body cavities.  Most cancers are carcinomas.

Care Quality Commission (CQC) The Care Quality Commission is the independent regulator of health and social care in England. They regulate care provided by the NHS, local authorities, private companies and voluntary organisations.

Chemotherapy Drug treatment usually with anticancer drugs.  A course of treatment can last several months.

Chronic Describes a disease of long duration, normally with slow progression.

Colorectal Includes cancers of the colon, rectum and anal canal.

Commissioning The process of assessing the needs of a local population and putting in place services to meet those needs.

CQUIN Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) framework – the CQUIN framework enables those commissioning care to pay for better quality care, helping promote a culture of continuous improvement.

CT scan Computerised tomography scan.  X-ray scan using a computer to construct pictures of the body in cross sections.

Cytoscopy A bladder investigation using endoscopy.

Cytotoxic Anticancer treatment is normally toxic to cells.

Dyskarkosis Abnormal cells which if left untreated could develop into cancer.

Endometrial Cancer of the womb lining.

Endoscopy Investigation of various body cavities by optical instrument.

Epithelial tissue The tissue that covers the outside (skin) and inside of the body.  It covers all the organs and lines all the tubes and cavities.  Cancers of the epithelial tissue are called carcinomas.

Fibroma Benign tumour.  Treatment not required unless it is causing problems.

Fraction One session or treatment which is part of a course of radiotherapy.

Glioma Type of brain tumour from glial cells, which make up the brain’s supporting tissue.  Over half of brain tumours are gliomas.

Gynaecologist Specialist in diseases of female reproductive organs; ovaries, cervix, womb and vulva.

Head and Neck Cancers of the face, jaw, mouth and voice box.

Hodgkin’s Disease A cancer of the lymphatic system.

Hormone therapy Diverse group of drugs which are beneficial in cancer therapy by blocking the substance which stimulates the cancer cells e.g. Tamoxifen for breast cancer.

Immunotherapy Treatment that stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer.  Interferon and Interleukin 2 are immunotherapies.

Improving Outcomes Guidance (IOG) Site specific cancer guidance on the organisation and delivery of cancer services by tumour group, published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)

Invasion Term used in oncology to describe the destruction of healthy tissue by a malignant tumour.

Ipsilateral One side of the body.

Laparoscopy Procedure using a flexible tube of optic fibres to look inside the abdomen and pelvis without having to make large incisions and collect tissue samples.

Leucopoenia Reduction in the white cells often caused by cytotoxic drugs.

Localised Cancer A cancer that only involves the tissue where it started and the tissue next to it.

Lumpectomy Removal of malignant lump (usually a breast lump) while conserving as much of the normal tissue around it.  Now referred to as a partial mastectomy.

Lymph Glands/Nodes Glands/nodes fight infection and filter body fluid particularly in the armpits, neck and groin.

Lymphatic system Made up of lymph glands, lymphatic vessels and the spleen.

Lymphoma A cancer of the lymphatic system.

Lymphocytopenia Decrease in the number of lymphocytes in the blood.

Lymphoedema Swelling due to abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid when the vessels are blocked, damaged or removed.

Malignant Tumour that is invasive and destroys the tissue in which it originates.  A tumour which will metastasise and will often cause harm.

Mammogram/Mammography X-ray examination of the breast to look for the early signs of cancer.

Marker Chemical substance produced by a cancer and can be used to monitor the progress of the disease, usually with a blood test.

Melanoma Skin cancer, often as a result of excessive exposure to sunlight.

Metastases/Mets Areas where cancer has spread to such as bones or liver.

Mortality rate Mortality statistics mean the number of people per population who have died from a particular type of cancer in a year. These figures should be looked at alongside incidence figures and other statistics.

MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging, scan using magnetism to build up a picture of organs and tissue.

Mutation A change in a gene.  If a gene is mutated the protein it makes will be abnormal and it can alter how a gene works.

Myeloma Cancer that develops from the plasma cells of bone marrow.

Myelosuppression Reduction in blood cell production by bone marrow which can occur after chemotherapy.

Neutropenia Decrease in the number of white cells (neutrophils) which can occur after chemotherapy.

NMR Nuclear Magnetic Resonance.

Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) Includes squamous cell, adenocarcinoma and large cell lung cancers.  They are grouped together as they behave in a similar way and respond to similar treatments.

Oncologist Specialist doctor treating cancer. A clinical oncologist treats patients with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. A medical oncologist specialises in chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

Palliative Treatment Medication, treatment or care that gives temporary relief of symptoms such as pain and sickness but does not cure the disease.

Peer review National Cancer Peer Review (NCPR) is a national quality assurance programme for NHS cancer services. The programme involves both self-assessment by cancer service teams and external reviews of teams conducted by professional peers, against nationally agreed “quality measures”.

PET scan Positron Emission Tomography. A whole body scan using a radioactive drug (tracer) which can show areas of suspicious high activity which need to be investigated further.

Primary Cancer/Tumour Site where the cancer starts.  The type of cell that has become cancerous will be the primary cancer.  If a liver biopsy has cancerous breast cells then the primary cancer is breast cancer.

Prognosis The likely outlook for someone with a disease.

PSA test Prostate Specific Antigen test.  A blood test used to diagnose and monitor prostate cancer.

Quality Standards Set of specific, concise statements that act as markers of high-quality, cost-effective patient care, covering the treatment and prevention of different diseases and conditions, published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Radiotherapy Cancer treatment using high energy X rays.  It can take the form of external beam radiotherapy which is conformed to target the tumour site whilst minimising radiation to surrounding tissues.  Gys (Grays) are the units that the radiation dose is measured in.

Radiographer Person qualified to operate radiotherapy machines (therapy radiographer) or  take x rays (diagnostic radiographer).

Radiologist A doctor who specialises in reading X-rays and scans and carries out scans and other x-ray techniques.

Sarcoma Cancer that has developed from cells of the body’s connective tissue, such as muscle, bone, nerves blood vessels and fat.

Screening Conducting examinations or tests to detect diseases before symptoms are present. Screening allows for detection of diseases in their early, most treatable stages.

Secondary Cancer/Secondaries Cancer spread, cells have broken away from the primary tumour and spread to another part of the body where they have started to grow.

Spinal Cord Compression A condition which needs prompt treatment as the damage done to the spinal cord by a primary tumour or metastastic disease can cause paralysis.

Squamous Consisting of a single layer of plate like cells.  A covering resembling scales.

Staging Most cancers have four stages.  Each stage relates to the size of the tumour and if it has spread.

Survival rate What survival means is that x% of patients were alive x% years after they were diagnosed.

Systemic treatment Treatment affecting the whole body.

Tumour A growth or enlargement that causes a swelling.  It is also called a neoplasm.  A tumour can be localised or spreading, harmless or cancerous.  It is named after its location or its cellular make up or after the person who identified it.

Ultrasound Scan using sound waves to build up a picture of the inside of the body.

Upper GI (UGI) Upper part of the digestive tract.  Includes the sites of oesophagus and stomach.

Abbreviations used:

ACBCS: Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer Screening

ACCS: Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening

CNS: clinical nurse specialist

CQC: Care Quality Commission

CQUIN: Commissioning for Quality and Innovation

CT: Computed Tomography

CRS: Cancer Reform Strategy

FOBt: Faecal Occult Blood testing

FS: flexible sigmoidoscopy

HPV: Human papilloma virus

HSE: Health and Safety Executive

HTA: Health technology assessment

IAG: Implementation Advisory Group

IOG: Improving Outcomes Guidance

ICBP: International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership

IMRT: Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy

ISB: Information Standards Board

LGBT: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender

MDT: multidisciplinary team

NAEDI: National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative

NAO: National Audit Office

NCAG: National Chemotherapy Advisory Group

NCAT: National Cancer Action Team

NCEI: National Cancer Equality Initiative

NCEPOD: National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcomes and Death

NCIN: National Cancer Intelligence Network

NCRI: National Cancer Research Institute

NCRN: National Cancer Research Network

NCSI: National Cancer Survivorship Initiative

NHSBT: NHS Blood and Transplant

NICE: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

NIGB: National Information Governance Board

NIHR: National Institute for Health Research

NRAG: National Radiotherapy Advisory Group

OECD: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

PBT: proton beam therapy

PHE: Public Health England

PPRS: Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme

PCRMP: Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme

PSA: Prostate Specific Antigen

ROCR: Review of Central Returns

RTDS: Radiotherapy dataset

QA: quality assurance

QIPP: Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention

SR: Spending Review

UK NSC: UK National Screening Committee

Also in this Section